Lyman Spitzer Award winner Steve Schneider reports on his 2002 trip to a remote region of Mongolia in hopes of a first ascent of the highest peak in Central Mongolia, Otgon Tengor. Their objectives changed quickly, but the new routes put up sound quite amazing. Read on for the full story!
We have just returned to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia’s capital after an amazing journey through remote inner Mongolia. Departing on August 11, we made a four day journey by van to a “resort” in the Otgon Tengor strictly protected area in Central Mongolia. There were natural hot springs to be enjoyed, as well as local Mongolians, both young and old. We interacted with these kind folk by playing chess, blowing bubbles, practicing gymnastics, shooting squirt guns, and practicing hacky sack. We had received a grant from the American Alpine Club to try and make a new route(alpine style) of Otgon Tengor, the highest peak in Central Mongolia. Our five person team consisted of my wife Heather Baer, Shawn Chartrand (our talented interpreter), Mike Stassman, Jackie Carroll, and me, Steve Schneider.
We made an initial recon on a nearby mountain to discover that Otgon Tengor appeared to be a complete rubble pile. However, in a valley adjoining our camp, known to locals as brown smoke valley, loomed an amazing golden buttress that immediately became our primary objective. After a day’s rest, we headed out of basecamp at 2AM, arriving at a beautiful hidden lake at dawn. The approach was extremely arduous, involving miles of negotiating talus. At about 9AM we started climbing, Heather, Shawn, and myself as one team, and Mike and Jackie as the other. After three pitches, Mike and Jackie crossed our route and would eventually summit, producing “the Lite Path”, a classic 5.10a route. Being of the more stubborn nature, I induced my team onto the more direct and harder line up the true ridge. I soon found myself getting spanked by harder than expected climbing, with unprotected runout sections. By 3pm it became obvious that we did not have enough time and energy to summit and return to the base by dark. We retreated, leaving our lines fixed, and hiked back to basecamp, arriving at 11:30PM (after a 22 hour push). After a few days of rest amid rainstorms, we made an advance basecamp in the Valley, utilizing horses to transport our gear and ourselves up the Valley to give us more climbing time. The Valley was beautiful and was shared only with twelve double humped camels owned by a local shepherd. The next day we returned to our highpoint, and took several hours hand drilling five bolts to protect the cruxes over two difficult pitches. I was then able to redpoint both these crux pitches on my first try, finding the difficulties to be about 5.11d. The second crux pitch was an awesome splitter reminiscent of red zinger in Yosemite. Heather freed the pitches after me in gallant style, while Shawn documented the action on still and video documentation. Seven more pitches, mostly in the 5.9 and 5.10 ranges landed us on the first of two distinct humps in the ridge. A long fourth class pitch was then followed to the final hump of Temee Tower. Temee means camel in Mongolian. Our descent was made eventful by our rope getting stuck in two places, which involved reascending almost an entire 5.8 pitch in the dark. Eventually we reached the ground at midnight, and stumbled back to basecamp around 6AM, making a 25 hour push. We all agreed it was one of the best “backcountry” routes we had ever done. We believe this to be the hardest route in Mongolia. We named the 12 pitch climb “THE BOMBADORCH ARETE” after our herder friend who played an especially artful game of chess. The 1600 foot route is rated V,5.11d, and we highly recommend it.
After exchanging final gifts with our friends, we enjoyed a final hot tub and reversed the epic journey back to the capital. We are still glowing from our wondrous adventure in this amazing land and thanking the Gods for keeping us safe and sound. We are now enjoying the showers and TV of our apartment, and the food and lattes of “Millie’s Espresso”. Our final week will be spent sport cragging in Terelj, a ninety minute trip form here, and reported to be like a cross between Joshua Tree and City of Rocks.
We will return to the US on September 5th, and look forward to seeing all our friends again back home.